LA punts on apartment vacancy tax ballot measure

City Council puts off debate over whether to tax landlords for keeping units empty until at least 2022 election

TRD LOS ANGELES /
Jun.June 25, 2020 11:30 AM
Mike Bonin
Councilmember Mike Bonin said the tax measure, as written, wouldn’t help with the affordable housing crisis. 

Los Angeles officials have backed away from a potential slugfest over whether to make an apartment vacancy tax a ballot measure in the fall election.

The City Council this week voted to delay the measure — which would tax multifamily landlords who keep apartment units vacant — until at least the 2022 election, according to the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. It was something of an about-face, after the Council earlier this month appeared poised to put the vacancy tax measure on the November ballot.

A number of landlords and landlord groups oppose the tax, with some arguing it would add to their already precarious financial situation brought on by the coronavirus. The pandemic has dampened demand, many landlords have said, and reduced their rental income because many tenants have been unable to pay or unable to pay in full.

Meanwhile, proponents say the tax would force landlords to rent those empty units or lower the prices of high-end units that haven’t found a taker. Hundreds of thousands of Angelenos are rent burdened and tens of thousands live without permanent shelter, according to recent studies.

A recent report from the city estimated it has a housing vacancy rate of 6 to 7 percent, or about 85,000 to 100,000 units. If the tax program garnered an estimated $3,000 penalty per unit, it would generate $150 million a year. The report was by the L.A. Housing and Community Investment Department.

But the Valley Industry and Commerce Association called the report “limited in its analysis,” according to the Business Journal.

The vacancy tax issue has been considered since last summer when Councilmember Mike Bonin called on the city to study an “empty homes penalty” ballot measure.

But this week, Bonin said the tax measure, as written, wouldn’t help with the affordable housing crisis gripping the city, according to the Business Journal. He said Oakland’s vacancy tax, which was used as a model for the L.A. proposal, had a loophole that “effectively guts the purpose and intent of a vacancy tax here.” [SFVBJ]Dennis Lynch


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